“People Like That Are the Only People Here” Short Story Review

You’ll notice that the title does not refer to Mockingjay.  I tried, friends, I really did.  I got half way through and thought that there was nothing kind or constructive to say about it and that it was best to move on.  And it was.

I haven’t chosen a book (or series) to tackle after the the Games, but I can tell you that it will likely be more complex.  In the mean time, I will be reviewing a short story/flash fiction each Friday so as to give you (my loyal readers) something particular to look forward to every week.  Heck, they’re so full of razzmatazz, we might as well call each of them a “Feature Friday.”  I’ll be able to do this until I chug through the next novel whose review will eventually become the subject of its very own “Feature Friday.”

I love writing about Scripture, even when it’s on a pseudo-randomly determined verse.  But I also love weighing Scripture against fiction.  And I get the feeling you guys enjoy it too.  So here we go!

“People Like That Are the Only People Here” is a short story by Lorrie Moore and was originally published in The New Yorker on January 27, 1997.  It’s a story about a mother, named Mother, whose baby, named Baby, has a strange spot appearing on his bottom.  She finds out that it’s a form of cancer and the child will need to undergo chemotherapy.  Her husband, named the Husband, constantly badgers her to take lots of notes when she is given medical information.

Now the story covers a dark subject but is written to be delightfully comedic.  I am embarrassed to mention I found myself quickly thumbing through the pages of a story about an infant’s cancer with an enormous grin on my face.  Lorrie Moore is a funny woman.

It would be more fair to say the Mother is funny.  Yes Moore wrote it, but you hardly get the sense that it’s actually been written.  It more closely resembles the manic inner-workings of an actual woman (as if I know what’s that’s really like).

It does not stray away from God, in fact the Mother is constantly questioning where He is in the mist of it.  And the way she processes this question is not only interesting, but also amusing.  As are most things in the story.  Interesting and amusing.

I’ve never found a story with this sort of character.  I mean the text itself has a behavior that is playful and loud to the point where it becomes a character.  To give you an idea, here’s a tiny snippet:

Perhaps, she thinks, she is being punished: too many babysitters too early on.  (“Come to Mommy!  Come to Mommy-Babysitter!” she used to say.  But it was a joke!)  Her life, perhaps, bore too openly  the marks and wigs of deepest drag.  Her unmotherly thoughts had all been noted: the panicky hope that his nap would last just a little longer than it did; her occasional desire to kiss him passionately on the mouth (to make out with her baby!); her ongoing complaints about the very vocabulary of motherhood, how it degraded the speaker (“Is this a poopie onesie?  Yes, it’s a very poopie onesie!”).  She had, moreover, on three occasions used the formula bottle as flower vases.  She twice let the Baby’s ears get fudgy with wax.  A few afternoons last month, at snack time, she placed a bowl of Cheerios on the floor for him to eat, like a dog.  She let him play with the Dustbuster.  Just once, before he was born, she said, “Healthy?  I just want the kid to be rich.”  A joke, for God’s sake.

So what do I do with this story?  Does it go in the Martian Sunrise Canon?  Do I want to tell my great, great, great grand children about it?  Almost.  I almost do.  Out of all things I formally reviewed on Martian Sunrise, this would be most worthy of placement into the Canon.  For now, I’m giving it a cautious no.  This will likely be how I treat most works that I haven’t been enjoying for years.  And down the road, perhaps it will force its way in!

If you’d like a simple way to read this story, you can find it in the 1998 edition of The Best American Short Stories.

SPOILER ALERT

Cancer is actually no laughing matter.  I don’t say this to condemn the story but to highlight the way people, including Mother, respond to it.  We don’t want any bit of it in our bodies.  It’s not something that the doctor examines and says “You have x% chance to live.”  No, cancer will spread and you will die.

And so will sin.  We often treat our bodies more important than our souls.  This is silly.  Our bodies will peter out and die.  Our souls continue on forever.  Even Christians, including myself, act this way.  And it’s terribly sad.

Sin spreads and destroys our souls.  What initially started as an explosive reaction to a friend’s comment, or even a quiet bitterness, will grow and take over if we don’t deal with it early.  And the longer we hold onto it, the more familiar and comfortable we become with it.  Eventually, assuming we ever belonged to God in the first place, we are dregs upon the Earth.  Void of joy and impossible to regenerate.  Outside of God, that is.

Consider Titus 3:4-7:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Everything is grace.  Did Lazarus ask to be resurrected? Hah!

In times of real spiritual infection, notice how the Holy Spirit speaks words of healing in Romans 8:26:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

And do not forget that God is freeing His children to holiness through a process called sanctification as shown in 2 Cor 3:17-18:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

And so I can’t be accused of not writing on spoilers, let me say that it seems the baby will live.  And so can you!

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Cor 15: 56-57)

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2 Responses to ““People Like That Are the Only People Here” Short Story Review”

  1. ‘So what do I do with this story? Does it go in the Martian Sunrise Canon? Do I want to tell my great, great, great grand children about it? Almost.’

    Not bad, Alex.

    And I have to say your choice to not finish, ‘Mockingjay,’ held considerable interest for me. Think I’m going to enjoy your ensuing reviews, good sir.

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